With 2017 drawing to a close and the new year just around the corner, the Mixdown team decided to look back on the releases we most enjoyed from this huge year of music. We asked our writers to tell us their best albums of the year, and after much deliberation, we’ve ended up with one seriously impressive playlist to farewell 2017. We've even thrown in our best gear releases and favourite live shows for good measure.
Name: Alex Watts
Top 5 Albums
1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
Lamar stays nimble on his toes with album number three, embracing radio pop music, personal narratives, and some of his most straight up hip hop moments since good kid, m.A.A.d city. The record is more diverse in terms of production and overall feel than his other efforts, but it gives the rapper more room to stretch out and explore his creativity.
Recommended track: ‘Humble’
2. RVG A Quality of Mercy
Melbourne’s RVG released an absolute classic earlier this year with their debut album A Quality of Mercy. Taking notes from the likes of The Go-Betweens while sounding consistently original, every minute of this eight song masterpiece is delivered with concision. The taut, raw emotion of Romy Vager’s vocal delivery and lyrics are balanced out by her classic approach to pop penmanship and a band that understands the power of dynamics. It’s genuinely impressive to see a new act come along and make a guitar based rock album in 2017 that feels this fresh.
Recommended track: ‘A Quality of Mercy’
3. Sampa The Great Birds and the BEE9
On Birds And The BEE9, Sampa the Great continues her artistic journey with a musically rich and thoughtful update to the sound established with 2015’s debut, The Great Mixtape. This release is reflective in nature, with barely an ounce of hip hop bombast, drawing upon African rhythms and chanting, down-tempo jazz, and a fair amount of singing. This is a rich and rewarding record that continues to reveal itself over repeat listens. Basically put, Sampa is a true artist – fearless, complex, and great.
Recommended track: ‘Bye River’
4. Father John Misty Pure Comedy
Pure Comedy continues Father John Misty’s run of super-chic, highly sarcastic albums based in the 1970’s singer-songwriter mould. The difference is that this time around instead of focusing on fictional tales or his own love life, he is reflecting on the world outside, in particular the political world, and while there are some particularly scathing lyrics, such as on the title track, in general Tillman’s plea here is for humanity. There are moments when he’s a little heavy handed, such as the 13-minute vision of the apocalypse Leaving LA, but for the most part this is a very strong work and an important snapshot of our times.
Recommended track: ‘When the God of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell to Pay’
5. Rapsody Laila’s Wisdom
Rapsody has been around for a minute but hopefully this album, the North Carolina rapper’s first with Roc Nation and featuring some A-list guests, will bring her some greater recognition. Showcasing a seamless flow and word play, Rapsody reflects on race and sexual politics as well as personal relationships. The production is flawless, at times bouncy, at times jazzy, and always complementing her vocals.
Recommended track: ‘You Should Know’
Honourable mentions: Aldous Harding Party, St Vincent MASSEDUCTION, Lorde Melodrama
Best Gear Release
The AKAI MPC X brings the instrument into the present while paying heed to its past – this release saw the return of the standalone MPC, meaning you can use it natively without a computer. The basic workflow of the X and the MPC Live, which was released at the same time, remains unchanged from the previous iterations, but concentrating everything into a single, powerful production hub rather than relying on DAW or MIDI and CV devices is very exciting.
Best Live Show
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at Sidney Myer Music Bowl in February was absolutely incredible. Cave was intense and majestic, and the band were subtle and immersed in the cause, whether playing the delicate arrangements of the songs from Skeleton Tree or delivering fire and brimstone on ‘Tupelo’ and ‘From Her to Eternity’. Absolute genius.
Name: David James Young
Top 5 Albums
1. LCD Soundsystem american dream
The comeback nobody saw coming and the dance revolution we all needed. Not only was american dream comforting in a time of need, it was also a career-best effort from a collective of truly remarkable musicians and performers. Second chances don't come easy, so LCD Soundsystem made sure it truly counted.
Recommended track: ‘tonite’
2. Toby Martin Songs from Northam Avenue
An ambitious concept album in which the Youth Group frontman spent a few weeks in residency out in Bankstown, learning about the community and the stories it holds. Teaming with the brilliant Bree van Reyk, as well as some local residents, Martin made a folk-rock record that's experimental and adventurous.
Recommended track: ‘Olive Tree’
3. Gordi Reservoir
The debut album from the 24-year-old Sydneysider was a total surprise package – a complete deviation from the standard singer-songwriter fare into deeper, darker territory. Gordi's voice is unmistakable, her arrangements are stunning, and the power of Reservoir is too great to deny. Unlike anything you'll have heard in 2017.
Recommended track: ‘Bitter End’
4. Paramore After Laughter
Another album, another reinvention for one of the most versatile and chameleonic bands on the circuit right now. The return of Zac Farro quite literally brought the beat back, while vocalist Hayley Williams divulged some of her most deeply-personal performances to date. Another triumph through tragedy for Franklin's very finest.
Recommended track: ‘Hard Times’
5. Charly Bliss Guppy
Sugar and spice. Sweet and sour. Things seem bright and bubbly on the surface, but delving into the depths of Charly Bliss' debut album will find some truly dark and twisted thoughts. Guppy is an addictive listen – short enough to binge on, catchy enough that it never loses flavour.
Recommended track: ‘Percolator’
Honourable mentions: IDYLLS The Barn, Holly Throsby After a Time, Gold Class Drum, Two Steps on the Water Sword Songs, Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Best Gear Release: The Smith Street Band's ‘It Kills Me To Have To Overdrive’ Pedal
Surely a guitar pedal as part of a super-deluxe collector's edition of an album is the best thing ever? Screw a poster or a book of liner notes, let's get some more pun-based guitar pedals going! From all reports, it sounds absolutely awesome too. Take note, fellow Aussie rock bands.
Best Live Show: Patti Smith at Festial Hall, April 20, 2017
For what was reported to be the last time ever, iconic punk veteran Patti Smith took to the Festival Hall stage with her band and made every second count. With the incredible Courtney Barnett in tow, Smith tore through all of her best-known songs and created a truly unforgettable evening.
Name: Eddy Lim
Top 5 Albums
1. Julien Baker Turn Out The Lights
The second studio LP from Memphis songstress Julien Baker sees the crux of her writing revolve around the duality of fighting herself versus acceptance, with allusions to doubts about her Christian faith and self-destructive reveries interspersed throughout the record. Baker’s ragged vocals have a sweet yet anxious quality to them that tugs on the heartstrings, and are gracefully accompanied with refined piano chords and gentle guitar fingerpicking. Tragically beautiful, Turn Out The Lights is overflowing with brutal honesty, and is a perfect example of a modern day lament.
Recommended track: ‘Shadowboxing’
2. Phoebe Bridgers Strangers In The Alps
L.A. singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers’ debut LP, Strangers In The Alps, is a collection of intimate experiences that ooze with lusciousness and ruminative doubt. Strangers In The Alps delves into death, depression, the decay of relationships, and divergent perspectives of human interaction, all observed through Bridgers’ pensive eye. Her stories don’t hide behind overly enigmatic storytelling or unduly cryptic metaphors, but rather manifest themselves in plain sight, blending gut-wrenching lyrics with Bridgers’ mellow, encompassing vocals alongside a copious range of delicate instrumentation.
Recommended track: ‘Smoke Signals’
3. Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
The state of America in 2017 was tumultuous at best, and DAMN. perfectly captures that snapshot of turmoil and chaos. Not only does K-Dot fire off shots at FOX News and Donald Trump’s presidency, but the rapper simultaneously diverts and deepens his audience’s attention to human sin as an underlying cancer. In signature fashion, the record is packed to the brim with episodes of introspection, astute references to religion, and hypocrisy masked as verbal irony – all deftly woven between thumping beats by a host of legendary producers.
Recommended track: ‘FEAR.’
4. Big Thief Capacity
The quartet’s second studio album consists of a fastidious compilation of stories from singer Adrianne Lenker. Emotional growth, explosive romance, and death are recurring motifs from Big Thief’s debut album Masterpiece, and are carefully wrapped within layers of emotive narratives. Each track from Capacity could be interpreted as a chapter taken from Lenker’s autobiography – from a traumatic assault in ‘Watering’, to a near-death experience as a child in ‘Mythological Beauty’. The rhythm section deceptively masks visceral lyrics behind an indie folk-rock guise, cushioning the breath-taking blows that are the stories from Adrianne Lenker.
Recommended track: ‘Mythological Beauty’
5. Bully Losing
After their critically acclaimed debut Feels Like in 2015, Bully have been quietly honing their craft for their sophomore release. While Feels Like toyed with teenage nostalgia, Losing almost seems like a perfectly executed sequel, documenting growing pains, powerless angst, and heartbreak. There’s plenty of that beloved Bully sound to go around – classic punk guitar dissonance, frontwoman Alicia Bognanno’s sandpaper howls, and an abundance of addictive riffs to give you a bad case of whiplash. Losing is an excellent addition to Bully’s growing catalogue, a holy trifecta of earworm pop, seething punk-rock, and ‘90s grunge – the perfect record for summer.
Recommended track: ‘Seeing It’
Honourable mentions: Sampha Process, Jordan Rakei Wallflower, Thundercat Drunk, Wilsen I Go Missing In My Sleep, KLLO Backwater
Best Gear Release: Keeley Electronics – D&M Drive
D&M stands for Dan and Mick, the two founders of ThatPedalShow, a widely popular YouTube series – think Top Gear, but with guitar pedals.
The D&M Drive is a dual overdrive, with each side of the pedal customised to the taste of their respective player. The ‘Mick’ side can be utilised from a mid-range boost to a mild overdrive, while the ‘Dan’ side is a full range overdrive that bridges the gap between drive and distortion. However, the real fun begins when you stack the circuits together in either direction of your choice. With the boost set after the drive, you’ll be able to gain a volume boost alongside sparkling mids to cut through any mix. With the boost set before the drive, expect endless sustain amongst harmonically rich distortion. The sky’s the limit with this pedal, and that’s why it’s earned a permanent spot on my board.
Best Live Show
I had the privilege of seeing Julien Baker at Sooki Lounge in July, and to say it was surreal would be an understatement. Her set brought a genuineness and honesty that I haven’t experienced from any other artist I’ve seen live. Armed with only a Tele and a handful of pedals, she wasn’t only able to command the stage, but the entire room. I’ve never seen a crowd more hypnotised; you could hear a pin drop between songs. If you haven’t heard of Julien Baker, do yourself a favour and grab tickets next time she tours down under – I’ll most definitely be there, too.
Name: Gloria Brancatisano
Top 5 Albums
1. The Maine Lovely Little Lonely
On album number six, The Maine have brought together all the different styles they’ve tried on over the last ten years – finally embracing the pop catchiness they’ve shied away from, and ultimately writing some of the best songs of their career. Lovely Little Lonely is all about the front-to-back album journey, from moments of dreamy nostalgia to sun kissed pop-rock anthems, it’s all here bundled in honest, raw songwriting.
Recommended track: ‘Black Butterflies and Déjà vu’
2. Harry Styles Harry Styles
Shrugging off the gleaming pop reputation of his past, on his debut solo release Harry Styles has arrived. From the Bowie-esque ‘Sign Of The Times’, to the psychedelic air of ‘Meet Me In The Hallway’, the grit of ‘Kiwi’, or when he lays it bare in ‘From The Dining Table’, Styles is trying everything. Tying it all together is his voice. Here Styles has room to experiment – to show off his range, but also take time to breathe. Pre-conceived notions be damned, this is a great debut, and Styles is an artist to watch out for.
Recommended track: ‘Kiwi’
3. Gang of Youths Go Farther In Lightness
Gang of Youths don’t do things in halves, and on the sprawling, 16-track beauty that is Go Farther In Lightness they’ll take you on the greatest emotional rollercoaster you’ve ever ridden. Where their gut wrenching debut focused on heartbreak, cancer, and mental health, its follow up sees them exploring every inch of the human experience – victories and losses, ups and downs, bleakness and joy. What ties it all together is vocalist Dave Le’aupepe – from his lyrical storytelling to those damn pipes, he’ll break your heart and mend it in one foul swoop.
Recommended track: ‘The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows’
4. Paramore After Laughter
The tension between sunshine-bright melodies and dark, gloomy lyrics is one that has taken Paramore through their career, but never before has it been so apparent. The hooks are still here, Hayley William’s signature vocals are still in full force, and yet there’s something fresh and new about the Paramore we get on album number five. From anxiety to fake friends, this gorgeously-produced album will have you singing along with all its heartache.
Recommended track: ‘Hard Times’
5. Clowns Lucid Again
A punk band opening their album with a six-minute track sounds risky; wait until you get to the nine-minute closer. Across Lucid Again’s 40-minutes, Clowns are their most cohesive and intricate. While the riffs are brutal and in your face, there are enough moments of patience and melodicism to keep everything feeling balanced. Maybe something like the deep breath you suck in after being punched in the gut.
Recommended track: ‘Destroy The Evidence’
Best Live Show
It’s a total cop out, but Unify is my pick, and the rest of the year had a pretty hard task trying to stack up. From getting to mosh to Alexisonfire one last time, singing along to The Getaway Plan’s Other Voices Other Rooms, the insane set from letlive., the return of House VS Hurricane, seeing Luca Brasi play to a crowd size their talent deserves, all the emo feels with Moose Blood, and witnessing the rise of our next heavy generation (shout outs to Trophy Eyes, Ocean Grove, Savior, Columbus, Polaris) – basically, what a bloody weekend!
Name: Jessica Over
1. Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar maintains his reputation for producing quality, thought-provoking content on DAMN., presenting a diverse tracklist that plays out a collective musical narrative. It’s the perfect illustration of the album as an art form, with each song named for its specific theme arriving in logical succession – and the record even maintains its narrative when played in reverse.
Recommended track: ‘LOVE’
2. LCD Soundsystem american dream
LCD Soundsystem are at their best on this record, treading the fine line between creating something new and staying true to their signature sound admirably. The songs are infectious and atmospheric, and the album is everything you could possibly want after a lengthy hiatus.
Recommended track: ‘call the police’
3. The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding
While all music is borne of the experiences of its songwriters, this sentiment is particularly true for A Deeper Understanding. You don’t have to know what specific moments created each track to find a way to relate to the melancholy musings presented across the album, granting listeners comfort found in its universal empathy.
Recommended track: ‘Holding On’
4. Gang of Youths Go Farther In Lightness
Thematically powerful and beautifully scored, Go Father In Lightness is not only a reflection on the highs and lows of life, but a representation of a band challenging themselves to constantly improve their musical output. The vocals are a true standout of this record, lending a vulnerability to the sentiments expressed through each song on this sincere and evocative record.
Recommended track: ‘The Heart is a Muscle’
5. Khalid American Teen
To produce an album like this at such a young age may not be an anomaly, but it’s still an incredibly impressive achievement by Khalid. American Teen incorporates a range of genres and influences across its 15 tracks, creating a soundscape that is pure and engaging every time.
Recommended track: ‘Winter’
Best gear release: Ernie Ball CradleTune
While celebrating gear releases is normally reserved for guitarists and producers, I’m personally a fan of the simple products that make life as an instrumentalist much easier. As someone who is hopeless at tuning, the Ernie Ball CradleTune sounds pretty great to me, and it works with a violin – bonus.
Best live show: Paul McCartney, AAMI Park, December 5
Performing 40 songs over almost three hours is an incredible feat, especially managing to cover all aspects of a legendary career encompassing solo recordings, Wings hits, and Beatles classics. Paul McCartney did so with the kind of performance that is testament to his musical skill and his continued creative genius, providing a night of entertainment unrivalled by many others.
Name: Nicholas Simonsen
Top 5 Albums
1. Glassjaw Material Control
My favourite band of all time released their first full length album in 15 years - of course it’s my album of the year. The album is groovy, anxious, raw, and worth every second of the ridiculous wait. Justin Beck absolute shreds guitar-wise, but it’s his performance on bass that really shines through. The gnarliest tone I’ve heard in years, coupled with insane riffs.
Recommended track: ‘My Conscience Weighs a Ton’
2. The Contortionist Clairvoyant
The Contortionist really age like a fine wine. It seems that with every record their sound gets that little bit more finessed and refined. Their ability to make the most complex polyrhythms and counterpoints sound so effortless is astounding, and vocalist Michael Lessard always has the perfect melodies to compliment such immense arrangements.
Recommended track: ‘Return To Earth’
3. He Is Legend few
There is just something about big riffs that are so undeniable, and He Is Legend have those in spades. Groovy, energetic and infectious songs with huge hooks. few is unrelenting in energy, with only a few subdued moments to breathe along the way, culminating in the broody and harrowing ‘The Garden” to round out the record. Extra points go to Nolly Getgood for pulling such an enormous mix on this album. God damn.
Recommended track: ‘Sand’
4. Envy On The Coast Ritual
Over the last few years, so many bands have tried to do the comeback record only for it to fall flat completely. Thankfully, this is not the case with Envy On The Coast. Rather than coming back with a full length album, they opted to return with a six song EP. Short and sweet, it has everything I loved about their previous records and showed that bands are capable of coming back in fine form.
Recommended track: ‘Sift’
5. Circa Survive The Amulet
Look, Circa Survive can just do no wrong. I am always elated whenever they announce new music because I just know that whatever they come out with will be wonderful. The Amulet is a true testament to that thinking. It’s a wonderful and captivating listen from start to finish. The band know exactly when to pull at your heart strings and exactly when to bring the energy back up. What a band.
Recommended track: ‘Flesh and Bone’
Honourable mentions: Nine Inch Nails Add Violence, Converge The Dusk In Us, Queens of the Stone Age Villains, Counterparts You’re Not You Anymore, Quicksand Interiors, Private Lives No Future, Linkin Park One More Light, End From The Unforgiving Arms of God, Lower Than Atlantis Safe In Sound
Best Gear Release
The Meris Mercury7 Reverb Pedal blew me away this year. As a huge Blade Runner fan, I was blown away at how well the pedal emulated the sound of the Vangelis score. On top of its impeccable sound, it also happens to be the most solidly constructed pedal that’s come across my desk this year. If you’re not paying close attention to Meris, then you best start doing so.
Best Live Show
Getting to see Underoath play They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line in full was an experience and a half. Further to what I was saying above about bands coming back and it falling flat, Underoath returned with unbridled energy. Both of those records mean a great deal to me, so seeing them played with such passion was magical.
Name: Peter Hodgson
Top 5 Albums
1. Stone Sour Hydrograd
Stone Sour have always hinted at greatness and every album has contained a few corkers, but Hydrograd is the album where it all comes together for a heavy, melodic, chaotic, varied record that’s flat-out fun from beginning to end. This is lead guitarist Christian Martucci’s first album of original material with the band, and he sinks his teeth into the opportunity to punctuate the tracks with leads that are part shred, part street, and all attitude.
Recommended track: ‘Knievel Has Landed’
2. Living Colour Shade
Living Colour’s Australian tour was one of the live highlights of 2017, and it’s just a shame that it happened a little bit prior to the release of this record - one of the strongest of their career and a surprisingly blues-anchored turn from a band known for pushing in many directions at once. Vernon Reid’s style is as abstract and wild as ever, and Corey Glover sounds incredible.
Recommended track: ‘Program’
3. St. Vincent MASSEDUCTION
Annie Clark/St.Vincent doesn’t mess around. She has such a fully-formed, perfectly executed vision for each project, and this one seems to sound like if Prince hired Adrien Belew to play guitar for him. Add in the fact that the Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent guitar - one of the most unique and interesting signature models out there - is all over this record, and you have a killer guitar album for what it means to be a guitarist in 2017.
Recommended track: ‘Masseduction’
4. Dario Lorina Death Grip Tribulations
Black Label Society guitarist Dario Lorina is a hell of a player in his own right, and on this his second album (on the legendary guitar label Shrapnel Records) he shows off his considerable songwriting and shredding chops. This is one of those rare guitar albums that you don’t need to be a guitarist to get into, but it doesn’t hurt.
Recommended track: ‘Echoes of a Stone Heart’
5. The Church Man Woman Life Death Infinity
The Church’s latest album is a hypnotic, seductive, psychedelic, slightly gothic work of brilliance, the kind of record that demands you listen from beginning to end, maybe with headphones, definitely with a drink or something. It’s an album of rare depth and creativity which slots in perfectly with their catalogue, but also sounds current.
Recommended track: ‘Another Century’
Best Gear Release: Seymour Duncan Andromeda Dynamic Delay
This may be cheating a little because I helped out a little in the development of this one, but the Seymour Duncan Andromeda Dynamic Delay is one-of-a-kind, with the ability to sense your picking strength and adjust the mix, saturation or modulation accordingly. Pick harder and the modulation will either hang back or kick into high gear depending on how you set the Dynamic Expression controls. There are also digital and analogue versions of normal, ping-pong, reverse and reverse-pong modes. A hell of a lot of fun.
Best Live Show: Devin Townsend Project
Devy will admit himself that sometimes he seems to not be able to get out of his own head enough onstage. Other times, he’s totally engaged and frickin’ on. This show was one of the latter, with a great setlist and some absolutely amazing vocals. Dude has gotten into exercise lately, and it’s paying off in his vocal abilities, which were already ridiculously good but are now shut-you-up-and-leave-you-standing-there-stunned levels of great.
Name: Will Brewster
Top 5 Albums
1. JAY-Z 4:44
Released in the wake of accusations of infidelity against Beyonce, 4:44 sees Jay-Z brood upon notions of family, wealth, and race on his best album since the early 2000’s. Produced solely by No ID, the beats across 4:44 slap harder than any release this year, and Hov’s slippery, introspective lyrical barbs on ‘The Story of OJ’ and ‘Moonlight’ affirm the veteran rapper’s status more than ever. It’s incredibly difficult for a rap artist to stay relevant at the age of 48, yet Hov makes it seem flawless.
Recommended track: ‘The Story of OJ’
2. SZA CTRL
Coming through with one of the best debut albums since Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, SZA’s CTRL is captivating from start to finish. SZA’s searingly self-conscious thematic lyricism and floating vocal delivery over alt-RnB grooves takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotional turmoil unlike any album of 2017. Even features from Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar can’t overshadow SZA on this one.
Recommended track: Literally every single one.
3. Sampha Process
Another premium debut effort, Process elevates Sampha beyond the realms of producer/hip-hop collaborator to highlight him as one of the most unique British artists in years. Fusing tender piano and gorgeous falsetto with heavy hitting bass and jittery hi-hats, Sampha is constantly on point across this entire album - I can’t wait to see what else he’s got in store.
Recommended track: ‘Timmy’s Prayer’
4. King Krule The Ooz
Reappearing from hiatus after being unwillingly dubbed ‘the voice of his generation’ at the age of 19, The Ooz traces King Krule’s mental state as he ventures deeper into the surreal, with his distinctive snarl complementing the verbose nature of the murky jazz-grunge compositions that litter the record. The Ooz is definitely a difficult listen - but it’s totally worth it.
Recommended track: ‘Half Man Half Shark’
5. Kamasi Washington Harmony of Difference
As one of the finest jazz musicians of the modern age, Harmony Of Difference sees saxophonist Kamasi Washington flex his chops across six tracks, each containing similar melodic phrasings and motifs played in a totally different style. There’s nothing more breathtaking than the twelve minute album closer ‘Truth’ - it’s undoubtedly a future classic.
Recommended track: ‘Truth’
Honourable mentions: Holy Holy Paint, Vince Staples Big Fish Theory, Kendrick Lamar DAMN., The xx I See You
Best Gear Release
There’s a lot to choose from here, but I’m going to have to go with the Fender EOB Sustainer Stratocaster. It’s nice to see Fender do something truly unique with a signature guitar by adding the Sustainer circuit, which really puts it in a field of its own compared to a lot of other signature models. Also, big ups to Fender for finally recognising Ed O’Brien as the OG of Radiohead.
Best Live Show
Seeing Hans Zimmer Revealed at Rod Laver Arena was out of this world, but seeing George Clinton with Parliament-Funkadelic at the Palais is something I’ll never forget. To be basked in the aura of such a musical legend for two hours of non-stop funk was without a doubt the highlight of my entire existence.